Prairie View

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Snakeskins and Corn

My nephews Bryant, Andrew, and Joseph (Ages 6-8) have an insatiable fascination with the natural world. Here are some of the things I learned today over processing corn about how they’ve been interacting with the created world.

Joseph has a turtle collection in an old stock tank. This summer he has collected several Red-Eared Sliders, a Stinkpot, a Mud turtle, a Spiny Softshell, and a tiny Alligator Snapping Turtle. He feeds them Dock leaves, and one other kind of plant I can’t remember now. At least one turtle in the tank has been laying eggs, but most of them have been broken when Joseph found them. The only unbroken one he’s found broke when he helpfully tried to bury it in mud like the turtles would have done if they had been in a more natural environment. Joseph’s sister Christy was very startled when she was holding the Spiny Softshell one day at the two sides of his shell when he stretched his long skinny neck around to the side and tried to bite her. The Snapper was too tiny to do any harm with his jaws.

All three of the boys are into snake skins in a major way. This involves finding dead snakes or killing them and skinning them and drying the skin by stretching it out on a board and tacking it down with nails. The head can be preserved in alcohol. Today’s project involved a very small snake, no thicker than a pencil. I overheard Andrew give my sister Carol a blow by blow account of how this is done, beginning with “You slit the skin all the way. . . . and then you cut off the head and the bottom, and then you gut it. . . . “ Oh my. God bless their patient mother.

A snake skin preserved earlier proved its worth as barter when they were able to trade it for a toy gun (which broke the same day, their mother told me).

Kudos too to Joseph’s mother, Judy. One day on the way to the grocery store in Nickerson, she passed a road-killed racoon without giving it much thought–till she was well past it. Then she realized that she would make her son’s heart very glad if she took that coon home for him to skin. By the time she passed it again on the way home, she had convinced herself to do the right thing and take it home for Joseph. She checked carefully to make sure no one was watching this irrational behavior, and she tried to be quick–but she was not quite quick enough. The mail carrier passed and gave her an “Are you out of your mind?” kind of look. With the coon on a rag in the back of the van, Judy answered the mail carrier’s question in the affirmative in her own mind on the way home. That coon smelled very bad. The summer-season pelt was worthless, but Joseph didn’t need a valuable pelt to be happy.

While we worked on corn, a flock of wild turkeys ranged through the field beside us and across the lawn we were on. At a strange bird call from the mulberry trees in the pasture, one of the boys announced, “That’s a Rock Dove.”

After the corn was husked and the boys had each dumped a five-gallon bucket of husks into a feeding trough for the cattle, they were off to the shelterbelt to explore. They returned with a fistful of huge feathers for each of them–turkey and owl feathers, according to Joseph. He really would like a turkey vulture feather to add to his feather collection. It would be huge and all black.

While I was a homeschooling parent I would sometimes play a labeling game from my educational background when I observed my own children pursuing a learning experience with the same kind of diligence I now observe in my nephews. Playing the same game today would have resulted in labels like biology, zoology, experimentation, identification, dissection, preservation, herpetology, ornithology, animal husbandry, horticulture. . . The list could go on, but the main point is that the work of childhood is learning, and no amount of curriculum planning or following, or starting with neatly segregated and impressively labeled learning categories produces learning results as impressive and painless as that which comes naturally when parents simply support and encourage their children’s natural curiosity.

In separating children from their parents and from regular interaction with the natural world, I believe today’s education system has cut off two of its best allies in the education process. Thank God not all children are so deprived.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Yedduh Grivvel"

When I first heard about Yedduh Grivvel (Yoder Irritable-Restlessness), I didn't know it had an English name. It is also known as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). The sitcom "Seinfield" contained an episode in which it was called "jimmy legs."

My earliest knowledge of this condition followed an explanation from someone in the sizable local Yoder family that a nearly uncontrollable desire to move one's legs periodically descends on members of this family. If they're in bed, they thrash around. If they're sitting, they shuffle their legs. If they're standing, they start walking. Anything to get moving.

I've observed it happening in church among one of the older Yoder ladies who sits in front of me. She squirms and rearranges her feet repeatedly. It's happened in the middle of praying in a small group, when one member abruptly lost the ability to meditate because of the urgent need to move. I remember the grade school rumor that a classmate's parents did not sleep together because they kept disturbing each other with their nighttime restlessness. They were both Yoders, no doubt related, but so distantly that it didn't matter--except when the common malady descended at night.

An article title in today's newspaper informs us that "Scientists identify genes for restless leg syndrome." The article tells us that RLS is biologically based and not an imaginary disorder.
The gene has been identified in Iceland, the U.S., Germany, and Canada, where studies were done on people with RLS.

So now all the Yoders who have thought all along that something real and strange nibbled at their nerves and muscles and caused them unaccountable discomfort can feel vindicated. What science has ferreted out has been known here a long time (It's real and it's genetically based.), except science is still not up to speed on the name. Science still doesn't know, and Kramer of "Seinfield" doesn't know that it is properly called "Yedduh Grivvel."

At least the official names let people qualify for the diagnosis who do not have Yoder for a last name. Small comfort. I'd prefer to think that I've dodged a bullet by not being a Yoder. Let's all stick with "Yedduh Grivvel."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

New Principal

I met today officially for the first time with Wesley Schrock, our principal for next year. Here are some of my impressions:

1. This man is not easily fazed. He's already familiar with many of the things that can go wrong in school administration and teaching, and he's not overwhelmed by any of them.

2. He is good at identifying a logical course of action and following through on it.

3. He asks good questions.

4. He is a reasonable man.

5. Making waves is not his modus operandi.

6. Having him on staff will be a blessing for us all.

After today, my anticipation of the coming school year has ramped up one more notch. This is going to be good. . . .

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Creation Abundance

One of the results of Kansas having had a very wet spring and early summer is an abundance of tiny toads. Their white throats gleam in the headlights that pick out a path along the road after dark. They bounce across the pavement at busy intersections on wide roads like US 50 at Partridge Road. Every country mile is well-populated with them. I wince as I drive among them, knowing that "for every one I miss I smash three others" in the rueful words of someone I talked to recently. The same person also suggested I ask a wise guy he knew about the poem he had composed with the title "Ode to a Toad on the Road."

In my garden, I smile every time I see a toad. I do a lot of smiling these days. As many as five scurry out of my way when I disturb any given clump of foliage. I rejoice especially since I know how beleaguered toads have become in recent years. They seem to serve as bellwethers of toxic-chemical levels in the environment, absorbing them through their skin, and succumbing to the poison. Environmental observers are concerned about the decrease in the toad population in recent years.

My thoughts on toads also run along the lines I heard expressed more than a decade ago by a Christian homeschooling mother whose family was facing financial disaster while also dealing with significant health challenges in their family. (Two of their three sons had terminal illnesses.) In a desperate state of mind she walked through the pasture where their horses grazed and found pool after pool of water teeming with tadpoles. She was overwhelmed at the realization that God has abundant resources at His disposal, so many that he can afford to spill them onto the earth and into our lives in lavish amounts, knowing that some of them will go unused and perhaps unappreciated, but His hand is generous nonetheless. This insight helped restore her courage and confidence in the God she was struggling to trust.

Ever since I heard this woman's story, the quiet little toads I'm seeing everywhere this year give out a loud message: God is a God of abundance.

Reflecting on this even helps me feel a little less traumatized about the unavoidable carnage I create every time I drive down the road. Regardless of how we bumble about among God's gifts and life's trials, our damage will never outstrip God's preemptive provision.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sunday Afternoon Ambiance

Safely ensconced in the bedroom, still drowsy from my afternoon nap, I soaked up the ambiance of our household at that precise moment.

From the dining room, where a long, drawn-out Risk game was in session (a tradition when Angelo is home from college) wafted strains of the theme music from Pirates of the Caribbean, punctuated by occasional comments from Josh N., Joel, Josh David, and Angelo. The wonderful smells and rattling around in the kitchen suggested that Angelo was baking his traditional Mexican fudge to provide sustenance. Grant had fueled the activity earlier by mixing up Pina Coladas. (I tasted the drink and liked it.) Judging by the stash of other drinks shoved into the fridge and the accumulating empty containers, they were adequately hydrated throughout.

From the study next to the bedroom, Japanese music emanated. Hiromi was working at the computer on his Akkadian research project after having created his own ambiance of choice.

Then, from the living room, the recorded voice of Mary Jo Hillaker, a Mannatech trainer. Victor (our newest "family" member) must be broadening his education on the food supplements to which he attributes his improved health.

I put aside the Wittenburg Door which has been providing me with my own private source of amusement and stimulation, get dressed, and head out to join the crowd.

The eight men who have gone in and out here today are quite a crowd.

After lunch with friends, Shane is off to a singing practice, perhaps with the Anonymous Somebodies, a group created on-the-fly with others from our youth group, or maybe it's practicing songs with a different group for a wedding next weekend. The Anonymous Somebodies plan to sing at a Partridge Community concert next Sunday afternoon.

Angelo will soon be off to Sudan to help direct a project with Samaritan's Purse in the rebuilding of many destroyed churches--not a bad thing to do with a freshly-issued degree in history from Yale. Josh N. will get married soon to Misty Weaver, and Joel will go to Bangladesh for a six-month stint helping to train Bangladeshi nationals as computer programmers. The "boss" in the office where he'll be working is Joel's former boss from the Kansas Software Builders office. Josh David will continue to work as a cabinet-maker--perhaps on the side undertaking projects like making finely-crafted canoes, or restoring VW bugs, as he has done in the past.

As the solitary female, I alone have the vantage point of observer and commentator. And now that I've invited you to observe with me, feel free to weigh in with your own commentary.